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book pairing clarke oyeyemi

One thing I love about being a reader is when two books connect unexpectedly. Last month I had one of those moments of book serendipity with two seemingly unrelated reads, Postcards from Cookie by Caroline Clarke and Boy, Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. Both books, written by women of color, explore race, adoption and identity in some ways that I wasn’t expecting.

I actually read Boy, Snow, Bird first, based on the glowing reviews of several other bloggers. The book is a fictional recasting of the myth of Snow White, although the way Oyeymi plays with that story is more inventive than that. The book begins in 1953 when Boy Novak runs away from her abusive father and ends up in a small town in Massachusetts. After she marries a local widower, she becomes the stepmother of a beautiful little girl, Snow Whitman. When Boy’s first daughter, Bird, is born with dark skin, it becomes clear that Boy’s husband and his family have been keeping a secret, passing as white for years.

Postcards from Cookie, a memoir, also starts with an adoption. Caroline Clarke grew up knowing that she was adopted, but never felt any need to learn more about her birth mother until she was an adult, concerned that she might pass health problems to her children. Although the adoption agency could not give Caroline the name of her birth mother, they provided enough details that she was able to figure out that her mother was Carole “Cookie” Cole, the daughter of musician Nat King Cole. After working up the nerve, Clarke contacted Cookie. Most of the book takes place after that contact, exploring the way their relationship developed and was challenged as they grew to know each other.

What struck me about the two books is the way they both ask important questions about what it means to be a mixed race person. In Boy, Snow, Bird, the Whitman family works hard to hide their race from their neighbors, assuming that’s the only way they will be accepted. That, in some ways, turns out not to be the case, although it it something that Boy has a difficult time with.

When Caroline Clarke was adopted in 1964, her African American parents raised her believing she was black. Being African American was part of her identity. When she finds out from Cookie that her father was white, making her a mixed race person, it causes some tension as Clarke tries to come to terms with what a mixed-race identity might mean in a contemporary setting. I thought those questions of race and identity were explored effectively in both books from different angles.

Both books also have many things to say about the idea of motherhood, adoptive and biological, and the relationships that develop between mothers and their daughters. I don’t want to talk about that too much for fear of spoilers — especially for Boy, Snow Bird – but I did want to just mention it as another way I saw threads between these two books.

I’m not sure if these two books would be so connected in my head if I hadn’t read them back-to-back, but I really couldn’t stop thinking about them together. I love bookish connections like that!

Disclosure: I received both of these books from their publishers for review consideration. 

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currently april 20 2014

Time and Place // 11:45 a.m., Easter Sunday, at my desk in Morris. I was planning to go to the Twin Cities to see my family this weekend, but I seem to have picked up a cold while traveling and didn’t want to make everyone sick too.

Eating and Drinking // Early Grey with vanilla tea and a banana. I need to think about lunch soon.

Reading // April has continued to be a slow reading month. Since I last updated, I’ve finished just one print book, The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. This collection of essays from Graywolf Press been getting a lot of well-deserved good press — it’s a remarkable collection of essays, all exploring different ideas of empathy and human understanding. You can read versions of the first and last essays of the collection online, which I urge you to do — “The Empathy Exams” from Believer Mag and “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” from The Virginia Quarterly Review.

Today I am digging into The Map Thief by Michael Blanding, a true story about rare map dealer who made millions of dollars stealing maps from other collectors. So far I’m really digging it. If I have time, I also want to get back into One More Thing, B.J. Novak’s collection of short stories that I picked up at #BookFest.

Watching // I finally finished watching every episode of The Good Wife that is available online, which is a good thing. I love the show, but I need a break. Last night I flew through the first three episodes of The Hour, a short British series about a news program in the 1950s that I’ve seen compared to HBO’s The Newsroom. It’s more of a thriller than a show about journalism, but it’s a ton of fun anyway.

Listening // U finished listening to Andy Weir’s The Martian last weekend and man, was that fun. It worked really well as an audio book, too, so check it out! Yesterday the afternoon was just gorgeous, so I sat in the sun and listened to Veronica Mars and the Thousand Dollar Tan Line, another enjoyable romp of a book.

Organizing // I spent a good chuck of yesterday afternoon clearing out one of my five bookshelves, the unread nonfiction shelf. It was getting pretty full, so pulled a bag of books to donate and moved some books to new homes. I’m more apt to choose books from a better organized shelf, so this was needed. I’m hoping to go through the rest of my shelves over the new few weeks and get them all organized in LibraryThing.

Blogging // This week I shared an interview with a poet friend of mine for National Poetry Month, gave a brief recap of my trip to Los Angeles and offered another nonfiction recommendation for one of my favorite book.

Hating and Loving // We got five inches of snow on Wednesday, then hit a high of 70 degrees yesterday. Spring in Minnesota is just the craziest thing.

Avoiding // I am trying, rather unsuccessfully, to avoid getting stressed out about a work project that needs to get done this week. I try to leave work and work, but this weekend it’s been tough.

Anticipating // Next Saturday, April 26, is the spring edition of Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon! At this point, I’m planning to participate for as much of the day as I can, although I haven’t officially signed up yet. I’ve already started putting together a stack of books to choose from — one of my favorite parts of the event.

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Nonfiction Recommendation Engine: Part V

April 18, 2014 Narrative Nonfiction 5

The Nonfiction Recommendation Engine is a semi-regular feature in which I offer personalized book recommendations based answers to a short list of questions. My real hope with the series is that other readers will jump in with recommendations in the comments, making each post a great resource for nonfiction reads. You can catch up with Part […]

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Dispatches from #BookFest 2014

April 16, 2014 Musings

Whew! It’s been about 24 hours since I finally made it back to Minnesota from my weekend in Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and I’m just starting to get my thoughts together. Rather than a lot of words, I’ve got a photo-heavy post to try and share some of the […]

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National Poetry Month: Poetry in the Words Left Behind

April 14, 2014 News and Notes

Today I am excited to invite poet Chrissy Kolaya, a a good friend of mine, to the blog to help celebrate National Poetry Month. Chrissy is one of the local people that I get to completely nerd out about books with, and I love hearing her perspective on issues in publishing from her perspective as […]

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Leavin’ On a Jet Plane to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books!

April 10, 2014 Personal

As I have mentioned several times already,  I am leaving the Midwest behind tomorrow for a weekend of sun, sand and books in southern California. Fellow book blogger and dear friend Florinda (The 3R’s Blog) is letting me crash on her couch (and making sure I have sunscreen to wear) so we can go to […]

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Review: ‘The Remedy’ by Thomas Goetz

April 8, 2014 Book Review
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Title: The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis Author: Thomas Goetz Genre: Nonfiction Year: 2014 Publisher: Gotham Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration Rating: Review: Today, we accept without question that germs cause disease. We wash our hands to avoid harmful bacteria and get vaccinations for deadly diseases to […]

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Currently-ish | Ahead and Behind

April 6, 2014 Currently

Time and Place // 9:30 p.m. on Saturday in my office. Normally I sit down and write these posts on Sunday mornings, but I need to take a trip to the Twin Cities on Sunday to see my family. Rather that skipping a second week in a row, I’m drafting this Saturday night — that’s […]

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12 Excellent True Stories by Authors of Color

April 3, 2014 Narrative Nonfiction 5

This post originally appeared on Book Riot, but I’m proud of how it turned out and think it’s worth sharing here.  This year, Book Riot has made it a priority to read and share more books by authors of color. When we asked Riot readers to share their favorite authors of color, we got a great […]

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March 2014 Reading Wrap-Up and a Look to April

April 1, 2014 Musings
Thumbnail image for March 2014 Reading Wrap-Up and a Look to April

March has been a strange month. I’ve been feeling rather discombobulated for the last few weeks, which has made it difficult to read or, to be honest, focus on getting blog posts up and written. I’m not sure how that is all going to play out for April, but I’m optimistic. Overall, March was a […]

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